Business

Debenhams may close stores this year under restructure

Man walking in front of Debenhams window Image copyright Reuters

Debenhams is exploring a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) which could bring forward the closure of around 20 of its department stores this year.

The company is in talks with its banks to increase its borrowings ahead of a quarterly rent payment due on 25 March.

A CVA would allow Debenhams to renegotiate its rent with landlords and speed up shop closure plans.

It is understood that the company is running out of headroom on its £520m borrowing facilities with its banks.

Debenhams declined to comment on store closure plans.

The department store chain announced in October that it was increasing its store closure plans from 10 to 50 shops - putting 4,000 jobs at risk - which would take place between three and five years.

At the time Debenhams said it was not ready to release a list of those stores it was looking to shut.

However, under a CVA, that closure programme would be accelerated and 20 shops could be shut in 2019.

It is expected to update shareholders on its progress within the next few weeks.

Debenhams has 165 stores and employs around 25,000 people.

Image caption Sergio Bucher was recently voted off Debenhams' board but continues as chief executive

High Street retailers have been under increasing pressure as more people choose to shop online and visit stores less.

Debenhams reported a record pre-tax loss of £491.5m last year and more recently said sales had fallen sharply over Christmas.

Last year, House of Fraser fell into administration before Mike Ashley, the billionaire Sports Direct founder, bought the department store's assets for £90m.

Mr Ashley is also a major shareholder in Debenhams, with a 29% stake, and he recently joined together with investor Landmark Group to vote the retailer's chairman and chief executive off the board.

Sergio Bucher is continuing as chief executive of Debenhams but will no longer sit on the board while Sir Ian Cheshire stepped down immediately as chairman.

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